WASHINGTON — A key House panel approved legislation Wednesday that would bar federal officials from slaughtering healthy wild horses and burros.
Bureau of Land Management officials have raised the possibility of killing as many as 30,000 wild mustangs they can no longer afford to house in holding facilities after removing them from land that cannot sustain the growing herds.
But Democratic leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee said sterilization of herd members and an expanded adoption program are more humane options.
The bill by committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., would step up fertility control measures, encourage more adoptions of the animals and provide the more than 60,000 wild horses and burros under federal control with as much as 19 million additional acres on which to roam freely.
“While Americans cheer on the thoroughbreds at Churchill Downs (at the Kentucky Derby) this Saturday, I would submit that the plight of the American mustang is not something of which we can be proud,” Rahall said. “While the BLM, the agency charged with their safekeeping, has publicly spoken of killing these majestic creatures as a solution to a burgeoning budgetary problem, I know that we can, and must, do better. This legislation would ensure a safe future for thousands of healthy wild mustangs.”
Rahall complained that the horses’ range land has been slashed from nearly 54 million acres in 1971 to about 34 million acres today in Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and other Western and Midwestern states. The bill would allow the federal government to buy and exchange land and enter into cooperative agreements with private groups that want to establish wild-horse sanctuaries on private land.
Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, has offered to adopt unwanted horses and burros and create a sanctuary for them on a large ranch in Nevada.
Republicans on the Resources Committee unsuccessfully offered amendments to weaken the bill, which they said gives the wild mustangs and burros protection at the expense of other wild animals and plants.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., called the wild horses “the bullies of the range” because they sometimes chase away deer from their watering holes.
“They are non-native, invasive species,” she said.
Grijalva said the bill provides for federal officials to preserve the health of the entire ecosystem, not just the horses.
Congress has been trying to protect wild horses and burros since 1971, when it passed legislation to preserve them.
Snce then, a lack of funding, shrinking range land and alleged mismanagement by federal officials have undermined those protections, Rahall said.
The bill will now be sent to the full House for a vote. It has not yet been taken up by the Senate.